originally published by :The Oregonian - Commentary
Friday, November 12, 2004
A martyr: The hero of a people
by ALI ALARABI
Yasser Arafat's life symbolized a nation struggling in pain to be born
on the world stage. He was the living, charismatic symbol of a
would-be nation. An imperfect symbol, yet the only real Palestinian
voice for the past 50 years.
His enemies portrayed him as a bloodthirsty killer, a terrorist and
the embodiment of evil. But any attempts to dehumanize Arafat, and
thus weaken him, only lifted his popularity and swelled his influence.
Surely, some parts of the world may wince at the thought of glorifying
Arafat, but to the Palestinian people he was a larger-than-life hero
who helped legitimize and internationalize the Palestinian cause.
His 40-year dominance of Palestinian politics was unrivaled; his
leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization resulted in his
people gaining a diplomatic voice on the world stage. For that, this
man should be revered, not reviled.
For tens of millions around the world, he was a romantic figure, no
different from any other guerrilla leader fighting for a national
liberation movement. In their eyes, Arafat's armed resistance was used to advance political ends and nothing more.
Arafat was no more a terrorist than Nelson Mandela, who because of his
armed resistance also was labeled as a dangerous terrorist and a thug
by the former racist South African regime. Even Charles de Gaulle was
a terrorist in the eyes of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Muchspeculation in the days leading up to Arafat's death focused on his
supposed vast wealth, yet his actions reflected a frugal life .
Arafat's image often suffered because one is judged by the company he
keeps. For him, that meant cronies and corrupt officials, many who
were loathed by the Palestinian people. Despite his authoritarian
rule, the opportunistic leeches that attached themselves to the cause
ultimately began to chip away at the man and his power base.
The internal problems were compounded in that he not only faced a
ruthless enemy in Israel, but also Arab rulers who plotted his death
and often attempted to control his fledging PLO through their proxy.
So Arafat had to operate in this difficult Middle East environment,
and perhaps because of it he adapted in a way unpalatable to much of
An Arab proverb sums up his world: "If you do not become a wolf, you
will be eaten by wolves." Arafat, by necessity, became a wolf for the
Palestinian cause. He was a lonely wolf, too. His predicament with the
Arab rulers drew these words from former President Carter: "I never
met an Arab leader who in private professed a desire for an
ndependent Palestinian state."
Knowing the difficulties of his cause, Arafat, by necessity, became a
realist. His pragmatism took him to work on establishing contacts with
Israeli leftists to advance peaceful relations based on United Nations
resolutions and international law.
For his enemies, Yasser Arafat will die a reviled man. But for the
long-suffering Palestinian people, he was a visionary, a martyr, a man
of conviction. He may not have succeeded in changing their lives, but
he without a doubt succeeded in changing their world.